10 Best Movies to Watch by Margo Martindale

Staff & contributors

Told with grace and maturity without sensationalizing its subject matter, Dead Man Walking expertly walks the line between taking a moral stand and keeping the messy humanity of its characters intact. Though it may seem just like a legal drama or prison film on the surface, writer/director Tim Robbins weaves in commentary on class and the role religion is expected to play in middle class Southern communities—especially in the context of justice and crime. Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon (in the role that won her her Oscar) play every side to this drama with remarkable control, building an unlikely rapport that culminates in a finale that's as moving as any great tear-jerker. It may be tough to watch at times, given the raw emotions that are laid bare, but Dead Man Walking remains relevant even today.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adam Nelson, Adele Robbins, Anthony Michael Frederick, Arthur Bridgers, Barton Heyman, Celia Weston, Clancy Brown, Codie Scott, Cortez Nance Jr., Dennis Neal, Eva Amurri Martino, Helen Prejean, Jack Black, Jack Henry Robbins, Jenny Krochmal, Jeremy Knaster, Joan Glover, Jon Abrahams, Kevin Cooney, Larry Pine, Lenore Banks, Lois Smith, Marcus Lyle Brown, Margo Martindale, Michael Cullen, Miles Robbins, Missy Yager, Molly Bryant, Nesbitt Blaisdell, Pamela Garmon, Pete Burris, Peter Sarsgaard, R. Lee Ermey, Ray Aranha, Raymond J. Barry, Robert Prosky, Roberta Maxwell, Scott Sowers, Scott Wilson, Sean Penn, Steve Boles, Steve Carlisle, Susan Sarandon, Thomas McGowan

Director: Tim Robbins

If you’ve never seen Walk Hard before but still get déjà vu from just its first 10 minutes, that's the point. This riotous pastiche parodies every musician biopic ever made — and even many that came after it. Its ability to predict the future is thanks to its sharp observation of all the clichés that are typically wheeled out when a musical artist’s life story gets the big screen treatment. Walk Hard skewers everything from the tropes of preternatural musical abilities and galvanizing childhood trauma to the formulaic three-act structure that follows the musician’s rise, inevitable fall, and triumphant rise again.

Absolutely no chances are left unseized to lampoon the genre: the film is told in an incredibly long flashback, for example, and features multiple groan-including moments in which characters say the movie’s title out loud, all but winking at the camera. The danger with a parody is that the joke can get old quickly, but Walk Hard is blessedly full of laughs that would stand up even outside of the spoof framework, displaying incredible devotion to even the most throwaway of jokes (as when The Temptations make a cameo for one five-second gag). Not just a brilliant satire, then, but a terrific comedy of its own.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Herschman, Amber Hay, Angela Little, Cheryl Ladd, Cheryl Tiegs, Chris Parnell, Clement Blake, Conner Rayburn, Craig Robinson, David Doty, David Krumholtz, E.J. Callahan, Ed Helms, Eddie Vedder, Frankie Muniz, Gerry Bednob, Gerry Black, Ghostface Killah, Gregg Lee, Harold Ramis, Ian Roberts, Jack Black, Jack Kehler, Jack McBrayer, Jack White, Jackson Browne, Jacques Slade, Jane Lynch, Jason Schwartzman, Jenna Fischer, Jewel, John C. Reilly, John Ennis, John Maynard, John Michael Higgins, Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Kristen Wiig, Lyle Lovett, Margo Martindale, Martin Starr, Matt Besser, Molly C. Quinn, Morgan Fairchild, Nat Faxon, Neil Ironfield, Odette Annable, Patrick Duffy, Patrick Faucette, Patrick J. Adams, Paul Bates, Paul Feig, Paul Rudd, Philip Rosenthal, Rae Sunshine Lee, Rance Howard, Raymond J. Barry, Ron Tyson, Serria Tawan, Simon Helberg, Skyler Gisondo, Stacey Scowley, Steve Bannos, Terrence Beasor, Tim Bagley, Tim Meadows, Tyler Nilson, Willow Geer

Director: Jake Kasdan

Rating: R

Paul Giamatti knocks in out of the park in Win Win. The movie has so much humanity in it as well as a fantastic story that's rooted in normalcy. At last a movie about second chances that is anything but cheesy. The rhythm of the humor in this movie helps you move through the serious themes unscathed (for the most part). In sum, the jokes are spot-on and the acting is excellent.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Alex Shaffer, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Burt Young, Clare Foley, Darren Goldstein, David W. Thompson, Edmund Ikeda, Jeffrey Tambor, Marceline Hugot, Marcia Haufrecht, Margo Martindale, Melanie Lynskey, Nina Arianda, Paul Giamatti, Sharon Wilkins, Tim Ransom

Director: Tom McCarthy

Rating: R

You’ll recognize more than a few faces in Uncle Frank. There are no mega-stars but the caliber of acting in this 70s story is truly impressive.

Beth is an 18-year-old in rural South Carolina who grew up admiring the family member she could relate to the most: her uncle, a college professor living in New York.

When she finishes high-school, she makes the move to the city her beloved uncle told her so much about. Once there, she discovers that he has been living a double life which he kept a secret from the family.

This is the perfect holiday movie for those looking for a story that’s not about the actual holidays. It’s sweet, often funny, and packs a heartfelt and genuine story without being too predictable.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Banks Repeta, Britt Rentschler, Burgess Jenkins, Caity Brewer, Christopher Speed, Cole Doman, Colton Ryan, Hannah Black, Jane McNeill, Judy Greer, Lois Smith, Margo Martindale, Michael Banks Repeta, Paul Bettany, Peter Macdissi, Sophia Lillis, Stephen Root, Steve Zahn, Voltaire Colin Council

Director: Alan Ball

Rating: R

This anthology of 18 short films — directed by the likes of the Coen brothers, Gurinder Chadha, Wes Craven, and Olivier Assayas — is a cinematic charcuterie board. Each director offers their own creative interpretation of one north star: love in Paris. Romantic love is heavily represented, naturally, but in diverse forms: love that’s run its course, dormant love in need of rekindling, electric chance encounters, and, apt given the location, honeymoon love. Segments like the one starring Juliette Binoche and Alfonso Cuarón’s five-minute-long continuous take opt to focus on parental love instead, with the former also exploring love through the frame of grief. 

If this all sounds a little syrupy and sentimental, fear not: there are dashes of bubble-bursting humor from the Coens, whose short stars a silent Steve Buscemi as a stereotypically Mona Lisa-obsessed American tourist who commits a grave faux pas in a metro station. Instead of sightseers, some directors offer more sober reflections on the experience of migrants in the city, which help ground the film so it doesn’t feel quite so indulgent. Still, the limited runtime of each vignette (sub-10 minutes) doesn’t let any one note linger too long, meaning the anthology feels like a series of light, short courses rather than a gorge of something sickly.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aissa Maiga, Alexander Payne, Axel Kiener, Barbet Schroeder, Ben Gazzara, Bob Hoskins, Bruno Podalydès, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Cyril Descours, Elijah Wood, Emily Mortimer, Fanny Ardant, Florence Muller, Gaspard Ulliel, Gena Rowlands, Gérard Depardieu, Hervé Pierre, Hippolyte Girardot, Javier Cámara, Joana Preiss, Julie Bataille, Julien Béramis, Juliette Binoche, Leila Bekhti, Leonor Watling, Lionel Dray, Ludivine Sagnier, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Margo Martindale, Marianne Faithfull, Miranda Richardson, Natalie Portman, Nick Nolte, Olga Kurylenko, Paul Putner, Rufus Sewell, Sara Martins, Sergio Castellitto, Steve Buscemi, Thomas Dumerchez, Wes Craven, Willem Dafoe, Yolande Moreau

Director: Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuarón, Bruno Podalydès, Christopher Doyle, Daniela Thomas, Ethan Coen, Frédéric Auburtin, Gérard Depardieu, Gurinder Chadha, Gus Van Sant, Isabel Coixet, Joel Coen, Nobuhiro Suwa, Oliver Schmitz, Olivier Assayas, Richard LaGravenese, Sylvain Chomet, Tom Tykwer, Vincenzo Natali, Walter Salles, Wes Craven

Rating: R

Philipp Seymour Hoffman stars in this family drama next to Laura Linney as siblings. They have to unite to support their father who after the death of his girlfriend finds himself alone. The Savages, after the family name, have dynamics that are all too common and easily recognizable. This is a beautiful and real movie.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Cara Seymour, David Zayas, Debra Monk, Erica Berg, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Guy Boyd, Jennifer Lim, Joan Jaffe, Laura Linney, Maddie Corman, Margo Martindale, Michael Blackson, Peter Frechette, Peter Friedman, Philip Bosco, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosemary Murphy, Sage Kirkpatrick, Salem Ludwig, Sandra Daley, Sidné Anderson, Tonye Patano, Zoe Kazan

Director: Tamara Jenkins

Rating: R

One of those long-lost mid-budget dramas that's content with observing the rich yet uneventful lives of average folk, Nobody's Fool reminds us that nothing exciting or shocking needs to happen to make a good story. The late, eternally charismatic Paul Newman leads an ensemble of character actors in relaxed, memorable roles—Bruce Willis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Margo Martindale, and Jessica Tandy, among others. It's the authentic, neither-love-nor-hate relationship among all these characters that drives all their individual drama forward and keeps the film from stagnating into anything less than endearing. Here, the idea of things never really changing in this small community is meant to be a comfort, not a lament.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexander Goodwin, Alice Drummond, Angela Pietropinto, Angelica Page, Anibal O. Lleras, Bruce Willis, Carl J. Matusovich, Catherine Dent, Drenda Spohnholtz, Dylan Walsh, Elizabeth Wilson, Gene Saks, Gerry Robert Byrne, Jay Patterson, Jerry Mayer, Jessica Tandy, Joe Paparone, Josef Sommer, Marcus Powell, Margo Martindale, Melanie Griffith, Page Johnson, Paul Newman, Philip Bosco, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Richard Mawe, Shannah Laumeister Stern

Director: Robert Benton